Monday, March 15, 2010

3 Responses to the Gospel--Luke 8:26-56

One size rarely fits all. I’ve noticed on clothing nowadays they’ve begun to say “one size fits most” or “free size.” The same is true in following Jesus when it comes to sharing our faith with others. Every believer is called share the gospel with others, but we are not all called to share the gospel in the same way with every person. A couple of years ago, we did the Contagious Christian study in which we looked at ourselves and how we relate to others and then looked at a variety of valid ways to share the gospel, some of which we connect to more readily than others, and also learning how others might more readily connect to the good news so that we might best be able to share with those who have ears to hear, and to present the gospel in such a way that it might be heard. We don’t change the components of the gospel—for example, we need to share that Jesus Christ came to save sinful people, that He is the true, living, way, that He died on the cross and rose from the dead, and that all who believe in Him have eternal life. But how we share can vary. Some people are visual—they like drawings or pictures. Some people connect with personal stories. Some are analytical and like to see the Bible for themselves or ask questions. Some people need to be heard before they can hear. People are different even though there is 1 gospel.
For example, I received a letter last week from some missionary friends in Thailand. Thailand is mainly a Buddhist country. You don’t use John 3:16 as a starting point in sharing the gospel in Thailand, because it is totally incomprehensible to that people group. For God—Buddhists don’t believe in God. So loved the world—love is a passion to be controlled, and why would you love the world? The world is to be escaped. That He gave His one and only Son that whoever believes in Him—Buddhists try to be their own savior; vicarious atonement makes no sense in Theravada Buddhism. Might not perish but have everlasting life—Buddhists believe in reincarnation not a place of punishment and why would you want eternal life? In Buddhism the goal is nonexistence.
However, Buddhists might readily connect with today’s first story. Despite the fact they don’t believe in God, they do believe in demons and have had similar experiences with them. They put large demon statues outside of their temples to keep demons away. They would be curious about Someone who has the power to drive away demons and especially that someone being good and loving. When people can make connections, they are willing to hear more.
In today’s reading we have 3 different miracles by Jesus, and Jesus commands the recipients of these miracles to respond in 3 different ways. In every story there is a crowd as well as the recipients of the miracles. In the first story, we have the healing of the demon possessed man. Here Jesus is ministering among Gentile people. While there are differences among manuscripts as to the particular city, the area as a whole was a Gentile area near the Sea of Galilee. This explains why there were people keeping pigs. Jews wouldn’t have done that.
Let’s look first at the crowd’s reaction. The reaction of the crowd was to ask Jesus to leave. They ask Him to leave because of economic loss, but more than that, it is out of fear. We see a similar incident in Acts 16. Paul heals a demon possessed lady in Philippi who was a slave. She was used by her owners as a fortune teller. Once she was healed, she could no longer tell fortunes. Her owners, upset at their economic loss, started a riot saying that Jesus would cause others to lose money and also caused fear because Jesus has power over demons and false gods. The people already knew what the demons could do. Although they cause trouble, they are somewhat predictable, and therefore manageable. It’s a system of tolerance and maintenance. It’s the same pattern we see with people in abusive relationships. The relationship is one of pain and hurt, but the abused respond with tolerance and maintenance. They try to leave, but often go back because the known is somehow safer and more tolerable than the unknown. When you can’t trust what you already know, how can you trust what you don’t know and don’t understand? It’s scary. And Jesus is scary. Jesus is untamable. Jesus cannot be controlled or manipulated, even though some of us are guilty of trying it! And because of Jesus’s power, the people were afraid. Jesus had messed up their status quo. Will you allow Jesus to mess up your status quo? Are there demons that you have gotten comfortable living with even though you know they bring you pain and trouble? What demons are you trying to control? Will you allow Jesus to deliver you from your demons? Remember that Jesus’s Word is powerful enough to confront whatever powers or forces of evil you may encounter.
The man who is freed, clothed and in his right mind, desires to follow Jesus. But Jesus says no. The best way for this man to serve Jesus is not by following Him from town to town. Instead, Jesus tells him to go back to his own town and tell everyone what God had done for him. The man obeys. He goes back and tells everyone what Jesus had done for him. This man understands that Jesus is divine. He equates Jesus with God. Why did Jesus tell the man to go back to his town? I believe Jesus wanted these people to have a correct fear of Him. He didn’t want them to be terrified of trusting Him. If they could see this man’s transformed life, a person whom they had previously feared, although controlled by chaining him up, they might be able to trust someone more powerful whom they don’t understand, but Someone with the power to destroy evil and create good. Jesus might not be understandable, but He can be known. He might be feared, but He is also to be loved. Yes, He is powerful, but His is power that overcomes evil with good. If the man had left with Jesus, the people wouldn’t have had the opportunity to see the changes in his life. They would be left in terror instead of rejoicing in the one whom even the demons must obey.
In the second incident Jesus heals the woman with the issue of blood while on His way to Jairus’s house. This woman was an outsider among her own people because she was perpetually unclean. Anyone who had any dealings with her would have been unclean and had to go through purification rites before being able to worship. This woman would have been barred from worship and fellowship because she could never be considered clean. Why did Jesus make her expose herself after she touched Him? Remember that our faith is personal but not private. Jesus wouldn’t let her be private. He tells her so go in peace and that her faith had made her whole, but He didn’t let her go until she had testified to what had happened. Like the freed man, this woman is called to testify to the crowd. The man is called to go and tell, but this woman is called to tell immediately what the Lord had done for her. Why? If Jesus had let her slip away unnoticed, the people would have not had the responsibility to reach out to her and restore her into the community. Jesus calls her to share both for her sake and for the sake of the crowd. Jesus holds the woman accountable for the part that she has in being restored among her community. The crowd couldn’t respond to an unknown need, but with her testimony, the need for restoration is made evident. Restoration of fellowship is the responsibility of both parties. We are called to be in community with those who profess faith in Christ. Are you neglecting your brother or sister in Christ? How have you been shirking your responsibility to your brothers and sisters in Christ? Are you feeling neglected by the family of faith? What is your part in your own restoration to the community? Is Jesus telling you to let someone know how you feel and voice what you are going through?
Jesus calls us to be restored to one another. This woman was to be an outcast no longer. The crowd knowing that she has been purified is challenged by Jesus to accept her back into their midst. Now that they know she is no longer unclean, they must decide what to do about her. The correct thing is that she shows herself to the priest, goes through purification rites, and rejoins the community with all of the rights and privileges as a member. When we are confronted with the truth, we must respond. We cannot claim ignorance. Truth always demands a response.
In our final story, Jairus’s daughter has died while Jesus was “delayed” by the woman. But Jesus goes to the house, and tells the crowd of mourners who have already gathered that the girl is only asleep. They laugh at Jesus. Jesus calls Peter, James, and John, Jairus and his wife into the room where the girl was. Jesus raises her from the dead, tells her parents to feed her, and also tells them to tell no one what happened. In the previous 2 stories, Jesus called for public declaration from those who had been healed, but now He insists on silence. Why? Lazarus’s resurrection would be public, and Jesus raised the widow’s son publicly. Once again, the crowd has something to do with it. The mourners had already mocked Jesus. They had demonstrated their unbelief. If the parents had told, they would have been mocked as well. Will they encounter this young girl again? Of course. Will they believe that maybe she hadn’t really been dead after all? Perhaps. Will some eventually come to believe? Very possibly. But at this point, they did not have ears to hear. Jesus isn’t forbidding the parents to share their faith. He would never do that. We are always called to share the faith. We are even called to share our faith at the risk of losing our lives. But Jesus is forbidding them to share the experience. It would be as Jesus says elsewhere, “Like casting pearls before swine or giving what is sacred to dogs.” We do not always have to share our precious experiences with others. We do not have expose our intimacies with Jesus with those who are unwilling and unable to accept them. This audience was both. There have been things in my own life—personal encounters with Jesus that I have shared selectively. They are not stories for the masses. To share what is sacred with those who are scorners can cause their hearts to become harder. The precious things can become twisted and misused by those who don’t have ears to hear. While this family was not permitted to speak, they weren’t commanded to relocate and live in secrecy. No, they were to live openly. They were to be part of their community. And in living, they might gain the opportunity to speak later. But this was not the time. We too are called to live our lives openly. We are called to live out our faith and to be ready to answer anyone who questions us about the hope that we have within us. To do that, we must live in a way that our hope is evident.
Believers are called to share their faith. Sometimes we are told to go and tell, sometimes we are called to tell immediately, and sometimes we are told to wait and let people observe our lives before we tell. We must listen and obey those promptings of the Holy Spirit to proclaim the gospel for the salvation of humankind.

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